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Open Recommendations

Indian Education: Schools Need More Assistance to Provide Distance Learning

GAO-21-492T
Apr 28, 2021
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2 Open Recommendations
Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of BIE should provide comprehensive guidance to schools on distance learning to ensure they have the information to create and maintain effective distance learning programs during extended school building closures. (Recommendation 1)
Open
BIE took some steps to support schools' online distance learning programs and used CARES Act funds to buy laptops and invest in IT infrastructure to help students with distance learning. However, BIE's limited guidance on distance learning for schools have impeded the agency's ability to ensure that schools can provide online distance learning when their buildings are closed to students. We will monitor BIE's efforts to address this challenge, which will help the agency ensure that schools have the information they need to deliver distance learning programs.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of BIE should work with Indian Affairs' Office of Information Management Technology to develop and implement written policies and procedures for collecting timely information on BIE-operated schools' technology needs. (Recommendation 2)
Open
BIE took some steps to support schools' online distance learning programs and used CARES Act funds to buy laptops and invest in IT infrastructure to help students with distance learning. However, BIE's lack of policies and procedures for assessing schools' technology needs have impeded the agency's ability to ensure that schools can provide online distance learning when their buildings are closed to students. Collecting timely information on BIE-operated schools' technology needs would better position BIE to ensure that students have the technology to participate in these programs. We will monitor BIE's efforts to develop policies to collect this information.

Higher Education: IRS and Education Could Better Address Risks Associated with Some For-Profit College Conversions

GAO-21-89
Jan 27, 2021
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3 Open Recommendations
Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Internal Revenue Service The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should assess the agency's internal controls for reviewing for-profit college applications for tax-exempt status and improve the review process to ensure that staff appropriately apply agency guidance on assessing potential improper benefit to insiders. (Recommendation 1)
Open
IRS stated that it would assess its internal controls for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status from organizations with a for-profit history and make improvements to those controls, as appropriate. In addition, IRS stated that it would continue to educate staff on application review procedures, emphasize staff discretion to request additional information from applicants, and provide staff with sample questions about transactions with for-profit entities. IRS noted that its guidance gives staff discretion to determine whether additional information is needed to assess if an applicant will pay more than fair market value to purchase assets from insiders. However, we believe that without knowing the prices the applicants planned to pay insiders in high-risk cases in which applications for tax-exempt status stem from a for-profit college conversion, IRS staff were not well positioned to assess whether the prices were consistent with fair market value. We believe that a broader review of IRS's internal controls would help assure that staff appropriately apply guidance in these high-risk cases.
Internal Revenue Service The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should collect information, for instance on the annual IRS filing tax-exempt organizations are required to submit, that would enable the agency to systematically identify tax-exempt colleges with a for-profit history for audit and other compliance activities. (Recommendation 2)
Open
IRS stated it would evaluate the benefits and burdens of collecting information about the for-profit history of tax-exempt organizations, including colleges. IRS noted that it already asks tax-exempt organizations to report whether they have engaged in transactions with insiders. However, responses to this question do not allow IRS to isolate organizations that have engaged in conversion transactions with insiders. As a result, IRS does not have the information it needs to systematically identify and audit approved tax-exempt organizations with a for-profit history--in particular, those that have engaged in for-profit conversion transactions with insiders. IRS's compliance strategy acknowledges that these transactions pose unique risks. However, the matching techniques IRS used in the strategy to identify tax-exempt organizations that were involved in a for-profit conversion did not identify any existing organization that purchased a for-profit college from insiders. Although IRS states that its techniques were not designed to identify for-profit college conversions specifically, they were the original impetus for IRS's strategy and were included in the scope of its review. We continue to believe that IRS should collect additional information to enable it to systematically identify organizations with a for-profit history--organizations that the agency acknowledges pose a heightened risk of improper benefit--for oversight purposes.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should develop and implement monitoring procedures for staff to review the audited financial statements of all newly converted nonprofit colleges for the risk of improper benefit. (Recommendation 3)
Open
Education agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it will develop new financial analysis procedures to ensure that staff review audited financial statements submitted by newly converted colleges after Education's approval. Education also stated that it will include additional reporting requirements for newly converted colleges as a condition in their provisional program participation agreements and it will closely monitor newly converted nonprofit colleges for the risk of improper benefit until the school receives its first recertification after the nonprofit conversion. For example, newly approved colleges will be required to report relevant IRS actions, changes to any existing service agreements between insiders and the college, and any new servicing or contracting agreements, among other things. We will monitor Education's efforts, which we believe will help identify indicators of potential improper benefit that can surface in audited financial statements after a college's nonprofit approval.

Higher Education: Department of Education Should Further Assess College Access Grant Programs

GAO-21-5
Jan 19, 2021
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2 Open Recommendations
Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education The Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education should take additional steps to ensure the performance data TRIO grantees report are reliable. (Recommendation 1)
Open
Education partially concurred with this recommendation. Education agreed that this information is important and the department has an interest in improving its reliability, noting steps it could take to better monitor the reliability of the different types of performance data grantees submit. However, Education noted that it does not have access to underlying data sources that can independently verify certain data that grantees in some programs are required to submit, such as high school persistence, rigorous course enrollment, exposure to research opportunities, student grade point average, and secondary school completion. We recognize that Education may not have access to all of the underlying data. However, verifying information where possible is an important step toward improving oversight of grantees. In addition, Education could ask grantees to explain how they collect data and request related documentation. Education stated that it could require grantees to explain their methodology for compiling student level data. Such action could help identify data reliability concerns even in cases where independent verification is more difficult. Education also noted that its ability to verify data submitted by grantees is dependent on the availability of appropriate funds for staffing. However, many of the steps the department identified to better monitor data reliability may not necessarily require additional staffing costs, such as leveraging the department's existing internal data or requiring grantees to document their methodology. Further, Education could consider other ways to limit costs, such as through a risk-based approach of monitoring a sample of grantees' performance data. Prioritizing staff resources toward oversight and monitoring is an essential component of program administration, particularly for programs like TRIO that rely on the results of prior performance to award future grants. We will monitor the agency's progress to ensure the reliability of TRIO grantee performance data.
Department of Education The Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education should develop a plan—with specific actions and milestone dates—for assessing the effectiveness of TRIO programs that serve students using methods that are consistent with its statutory authority. (Recommendation 2)
Open
Education agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it plans to evaluate TRIO programs using the most rigorous methods available given statutory limitations and will develop a plan with specific actions and milestone dates. Education also noted that it is mindful of the statutory limitations of the HEA, under which Education cannot require grantees to participate in an evaluation that requires TRIO grantees to recruit additional students beyond those the TRIO program or project would normally recruit or that results in the denial of services for an eligible student under the program or project. We will monitor the agency's progress on these efforts.

Native American Youth: Agencies Incorporated Almost All Leading Practices When Assessing Grant Programs That Could Prevent or Address Delinquency [Reissued with revisions on Aug. 27, 2020.]

GAO-20-600
Aug 27, 2020
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3 Open Recommendations
Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Administration for Children and Families The Associate Commissioner of the Administration for Children and Families Children's Bureau within the Department of Health and Human Services should develop a process to assess the reliability of grantee performance information contained within annual performance reports for tribal recipients of its Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not concur with this recommendation. We continue to believe that the recommendation is valid because assessing the reliability of grantee performance information from tribal recipients could help provide the HHS Administration for Children (ACF) and Families Children's Bureau further assurance that it has an accurate representation of grantee performance. HHS stated that the ACF Children's Bureau's joint planning process with tribes to develop a plan to implement the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program is sufficient to assess the reliability of grantee performance information and that any additional activities would be overly burdensome and resource intensive. We acknowledge HHS's statement that this joint process may be used to assess the reliability of any grantee performance information, generally. However, assessing grantee performance information for tribal recipients contained within annual performance reports, specifically, is important since these reports are where tribal recipients provide updates on the progress they made toward the goals and objectives set forth during the joint planning process. We will continue to monitor HHS's efforts to address this recommendation.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Education should take steps to alert grantees of the Native Language Immersion Cooperative Agreement when they are late in submitting performance reports. (Recommendation 2)
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The Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) concurred with this recommendation and stated that it should be able to address the recommendation as the BIE office that administers the Native Language Immersion Cooperative Agreement matures and fills critical vacancies. When we confirm what actions the BIE has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Bureau of Indian Education The Director of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Education should develop a process to assess the quality and reliability of a sample of grantee performance data for the Native Language Immersion Cooperative Agreement. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) concurred with this recommendation and stated that it would take steps to implement it. When we confirm what actions the BIE has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
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